Why Big Solar and environmentalists are clashing over the California desert
By Chris Mooney August 15
The Desert Sunlight Solar Farm is located on 3,600 acres of public land in the Chuckwalla Valley in east Riverside County, Calif. (Credit: Courtesy of First Solar, Inc.)CHUCKWALLA VALLEY, Calif. – Just after noon on a 110-degree summer day, the 5.6-square-mile Desert Sunlight Solar Farm — the biggest of its kind erected on U.S. federal land — is proving why this desolate spot is such a good one for harnessing the sun’s rays.
With few clouds above, the seemingly endless 8-million-panel array is churning out 551.3 megawatts, or million watts, of electricity, more than enough to power 160,000 homes some 175 miles west of here in Los Angeles.
“This is fairly typical, that as the sun moves through the sky, this is about the time of day that we hit that sort of number,” said Steve Stengel, a spokesman for the plant’s co-owner, NextEra Energy Resources.
Giant solar arrays such as Desert Sunlight not only generate vast amounts of power, but they also do not require any fuel or produce any carbon emissions — advancing the ambitious climate goals of California and the United States alike.
But lately, those lofty goals have run into a more earthly reality — large-scale solar projects require vast amounts of land, land that also is home to many animal and plant species, most iconic among them a slow-moving herbivore called the desert tortoise.
The creature is so highly regarded by the conservation community, and so threatened by climate change, that groups that might otherwise regard themselves as allies of clean energy find themselves at odds with the solar industry. The two sides are squaring off on a U.S. Bureau of Land Management plan to allocate some 10 million acres of public land in the California desert for conservation, recreation and clean-energy installations like Desert Sunlight.
The solar lobby argues that the current draft would throttle the industry’s expansion, making it difficult to meet the nation’s renewable-energy goals. Environmentalists want to preserve “connectivity” between areas of vital species habitat, so that tortoises and other animals can move around and adjust to warming conditions, which could drive them to higher, cooler elevations. For the animals, reaching distant mountain ranges might mean crossing flat stretches where, otherwise, companies might put solar installations.
The resulting proposal would allocate 388,000 acres of federal land for renewable-energy development, while protecting 5.3 million acres for conservation reasons and 3.8 million acres for recreation. (The last two involve some overlap). “Over twice the amount of important desert tortoise lands” would be protected under the plan, the agency determined.
“Why the administration would on one hand call for greater use of renewable energy on public lands as a way to hit carbon reduction targets, while cutting off access to the land needed … is lost on us,” said Dan Whitten, vice president of communications at the Solar Energy Industries Association, the main trade group of the booming solar industry.
The industry’s stance on the initiative — dubbed the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan — has in turn triggered criticism in the conservation world and spurred a counter-mobilization in the plan’s favor.
“We’ve been at this for eight years, the industry has been at the table, and to have these issues come up…at the eleventh hour, seems a bit not only mystifying, but disingenuous on their part for not bringing them up earlier,” said Ileene Anderson, a senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity, one of a number of prominent environmental groups backing the plan.
An umbrella species
What’s behind it all is a desert that, far from being deserted, is in high demand — presenting a complex patchwork of urban areas, national parks and monuments, military bases, lands of major cultural significance to Native Americans, and more.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), a branch of the Interior Department, has been charged with managing 10 million publicly owned acres of this landscape since 1976, a period that coincided with a steady decline in the population of the tortoise, a long-lived and slow-reproducing reptile that digs telltale burrows in the dry earth to keep cool.
The tortoise is threatened by roads, off-road vehicles, and more — including a changing climate. It is also considered an “umbrella” species because its habitat overlaps with so many others. “By protecting the tortoise, you protect all the other species in the desert,” said Mark Massar, a wildlife biologist with the BLM.
Concern for the tortoise has mounted even as the desert solar boom hit in the late 2000s, buoyed by President Obama’s economic stimulus act and California’s ever-more-ambitious targets for renewable energy, which currently require power companies to get 50 percent of their electricity from clean sources by 2030.
The conflicts were epitomized by the Ivanpah solar plant in the Mojave Desert. One environmental group, the Western Watersheds Project, sued the federal government in 2011 to stop the project. That didn’t happen, but developers ultimately had to spend millions of dollars to protect desert tortoises at and around the site.
It is in this context that the BLM began a protracted process to apportion the land, collaborating with federal and California partner agencies.
The 550MW Desert Sunlight Solar Farm is located in the Chuckwalla Valley in east Riverside County, California on 3600 acres of BLM land. (Credit: Courtesy of First Solar, Inc.)For renewable energy, one of the largest designated areas lies in east Riverside County, Calif., halfway between Los Angeles and Phoenix along the Interstate 10 highway. The region — called the Chuckwalla Valley — is part of a dry and harsh landscape that once supported massive World War II desert training exercises overseen by Army Gen. George S. Patton, who was preparing an Allied invasion force to go into North Africa.
One advantage of this valley is that it contains many hot, low-lying areas that are less-desirable habitat for tortoises, which prefer higher elevations. Even conservationists say they are okay — mostly — with solar installations out here.
“This is a pretty decent area to be what you might call a sacrifice area for solar,” said Joan Taylor, a longtime desert conservation advocate who chairs the Sierra Club’s California-Nevada Desert Energy committee, as she surveyed Desert Sunlight recently.
‘More than enough acres’
The solar-energy industry has moved quickly to lay claim to the area. To the east of Desert Sunlight, near the Arizona border, NextEra is finishing construction on another large array, the two-part Blythe project, a 235-megawatt installation covering more than three square miles. Surrounding the facility are not one but two fences. One of the fences is smaller but extends 18 inches below ground to prevent desert tortoises from burrowing beneath it.
But solar-energy backers fear that finding other suitable sites may be difficult under the federal plan. One charge is that some of the renewable-energy zones overlap with ecologically sensitive areas, such as sand dunes that are home to the Mojave fringe-toed lizard and “microphyll woodlands,” areas of taller trees, such as ironwood and palo verde, that are key for birds.
Danielle Mills, a senior policy adviser for the Large-scale Solar Association, recently toured one of these woodlands, which grow in desert washes that receive occasional flooding, near the Blythe array.
“Companies wouldn’t come here in the first place, but on top of that, there’s a requirement to avoid it,” said Mills, whose organization’s members include NextEra and First Solar, which originally developed Desert Sunlight.
The BLM does not dispute that overlaps exist. Even within designated development areas, “there’s still going to be some sensitive resources that are going to have to be avoided,” said Mike Sintetos, who leads the BLM’s renewable energy program in California. “We acknowledge that.”
But Sintetos said the agency thinks there will still be “more than enough acres available for the amount of megawatts that we think are going to come out of the desert.”
The wind-energy industry is not happy with the plan, either. “I’ve never been so frustrated in my entire life. It was like beating my head against a brick wall for seven years,” said Nancy Rader, executive director of the California Wind Energy Association.
But conservationists counter that California’s two large utilities, Pacific Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison, have voiced support for the plan. And BLM California spokeswoman Martha Maciel adds that by channeling the solar industry to areas that are less conflict-prone, development will be a lot easier and litigation rarer. “It provides them a level of certainty that does not exist today,” she said.
One key point of disagreement is just how much additional solar-energy infrastructure California, and the rest of the United States, will need — and how much should be sited on public lands.
Karen Douglas, one of the California Energy Commission’s five members, argues that the 388,000 acres should be more than enough — especially considering that the solar-energy industry will have the option to develop on private lands, too, and in other parts of the state, such as the San Joaquin Valley.
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She described a scenario in which, assuming that California will need 20,000 megawatts of desert renewable-energy by 2040, 12 percent of the federal lands designated under the plan would supply about 40 percent of the goal. Private lands could then accommodate the rest, she said. “Large-scale renewable energy, especially on public land, is not the only game in town,” Douglas said.
But the solar industry counters that it doesn’t know how much private land will be available. Originally the plan was to work with California’s counties to simultaneously obtain private land and allocate public lands. But later, the plan was split to pursue separate tracks, one factor that is now driving discord.
In the end, the debate marks a clear coming of age for the solar industry, a sign the growing appetite for the energy it produces will begin to conflict with other interests.
“There’s no free ride with energy,” says the Sierra Club’s Taylor. “They all have costs, and large scale solar is among them.”
ROOFTOP SOLAR LEASES SCARING BUYERS WHEN HOMEOWNERS SELL
Published by CFSSAdmin at August 4, 2016
June 24, 2014
Dorian Bishopp blames the solar panels on his roof for costing him almost 10 percent off the value of the home he sold in March.
That’s because instead of owning them he leased the panels from SunPower Corp., requiring the new owner of the house to assume a contract with almost 19 years remaining. He had to shave the asking price for the house in Maricopa, Arizona, to draw in buyers unfamiliar with the financing arrangement.
Leasing is driving a boom in solar sales because most require no money upfront for systems that cost thousands of dollars. That’s made solar affordable for more people, helping spur a 38 percent jump in U.S. residential installations in the past year. Since the business model only gained currency in the past two years, the details embedded in the fine print of the deals are only starting to emerge.
“Homeowners don’t understand what they’re signing when they get into this,” said Sandy Adomatis, a home appraiser in Punta Gorda, Florida, who created the industry’s standard tool for valuing the systems. “You’ve got another layer to add on top of finding a buyer for the house. It’s not a plus.”For people who own rooftop power systems, solar adds value to the home — about $25,000 for the average installation in California, according to a study in December by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, funded by the U.S. Energy Department’s SunShot Initiative.
Personal PropertyLeased systems are another story because they’re considered personal property rather than part of a house. For many potential buyers, a solar lease is a liability rather than an asset, and may drive some people away, said Adomatis, who wrote the Residential Green Valuation Tool, a guide offered by the Appraisal Institute trade group.
Solar leases were introduced in 2008 and started to take off in about 2012. As much as as 70 percent of the residential systems being installed now are financed through leases, according to GTM Research. Most of the systems in place remain in the hands of the original customer, suggesting the difficulties in selling these properties are just beginning.
“Some buyers just won’t be on board” with assuming a solar lease, said Nick Culver, a solar analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance in New York. “Even if you save money every month, you limit yourself to a certain subset of buyers.”
SolarCity Corp., the solar installer backed by billionaire Elon Musk with 110,000 lease customers, has transferred ownership of about 1,500 contracts to date and says the new owners typically will continue to enjoy lower power costs. It created an eight-person team that’s handling about 150 transfers a month because of growing demand for the service.
Lower Costs“They’re essentially moving into a home with a lower cost of ownership, a lower cost of energy,” so a solar lease shouldn’t make it harder to sell a house, said Jonathan Bass, a spokesman for SolarCity in San Mateo, California. “It becomes a selling point instead of a point of misunderstanding.”
Scott Vineberg, a SolarCity customer, received multiple offers for the Scottsdale, Arizona, home he sold in January. The lease made the deal more complicated because the buyers were reluctant to take over the contract and asked him to pay off the balance in advance, about 10 years of payments.
“I don’t think they understood it,” said Vineberg. He refused to pay off the lease, and instead provided years of documentation to verify the monthly energy savings. After the sale closed, the buyers opted to pay off the lease, and Vineberg installed another SolarCity system at his new home.
‘A Deterrent’Bishopp had a tougher time. “We had one offer in five months, and they pulled back as soon as they found out about the solar lease,” he said. “It’s a deterrent, definitely.”
The solar panels saved him about $50 a month on power costs. Before the panels were installed, he paid the local non-profit utility, Electrical District No. 3, 11.85 cents a kilowatt-hour for the first 500 kilowatt-hours a month, and 14.35 cents after that. His monthly bill was about $242.
With the lease from SunPower, he paid $160 a month for the 30 rooftop panels and owed another $32 to cover the utility’s monthly minimum charge. Under the lease, he paid 11.5 cents a kilowatt-hour for electricity, a rate guaranteed for the length of the contract.
The house sold for $140,000 in March, and the buyer took over the lease with the same rates. Bishopp had initially sought $155,000, and lowered the price three times.
He had to “price the house lower than houses without solar to get people interested,” said Brian Neugebauer, the real estate agent at Re/Max Excalibur who helped sell the property. Potential buyers, he said, were “scared of the solar lease.”
That may change as leases become more common. “It’s going to become a non-issue,” Neugebauer said. “It’s going to be like asking ‘Does your house have lightbulbs?’”
Credit ScoresThere was one more hurdle: to take over the contract, SunPower had to approve the new leaseholder. The buyer’s credit score was a few points short of the solar company’s minimum, and was initially rejected. Bishopp had to persuade SunPower to reverse its decision.
In the “vast majority of cases,” buyers who qualify for a mortgage will also qualify to take over a solar lease, Martin DeBono, a SunPower vice president, said by e-mail.
The company has 20,000 residential lease customers, and fewer than 1 percent have sold their homes. Most of them transferred the lease to the buyer.
(An earlier version of this story corrected the name of SolarCity Corp.)
- See more at: https://smartsolarfl.org/rooftop-solar-leases-scaring-buyers-when-homeowners-sell/#sthash.fmTNBPq0.dpuf
Can Elon Musk make solar panels as attractive as a Tesla?Published: June 24, 2016 9:42 a.m. ET
If you are familiar with Elon Musk, you know how important design is to his products. Just look at a Tesla TSLA, +1.99% Model S.
Since Tesla offered to buy SolarCity in an all-stock deal earlier this week, will Musk do for the basic blue/black solar panel what he did for the sedan? Recent history suggests he might.
Two years ago, when SolarCity SCTY, -0.92% acquired Silevo, a solar panel manufacturing startup, Musk — whose cousin owns SolarCity — had spoken about manufacturing cool-looking panels. Later that year, when he announced the setting up of a ‘gigafactory’ to make batteries for Tesla, he emphasized the importance of looks and aesthetics of the factory. On Wednesday, discussing the proposed Tesla and SolarCity merger, he again spent a lot of time on aesthetics. He said that SolarCity was working toward improving efficiency and aesthetics of rooftop panels, and that while they will get there on their own, “that journey will be accelerated as part of Tesla as well.”
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Tesla offers to acquire SolarCity
(3:53)Tesla Motors offered to acquire SolarCity Corp. in an all-stock deal valued at $2.8 billion.
But does the way solar panels look play a large role in a consumer’s decision to go solar? For many people, the answer is yes. The sight of bulky black or blue solar panels with metalframes holding them up does put some people off.
California-based Lumeta Solar found upon surveying over 500 prospective customers in 13 states that 12.4% of people say it’s extremely important, 20% very important and 30% moderately important; only 21% say it’s slightly important and 16% say it’s not at all important when they decide whether or not to purchase solar panels.
Meanwhile, in a survey on the New York-based environment and sustainability website TreeHugger, about 30% of respondents, when asked if it makes sense to prevent homeowners from installing solar systems for aesthetic reasons, say, “No, but they should be installed with aesthetics and design in mind.”
While upfront costs and financing are on top of the list when people consider converting their house to solar energy, consumers also take aesthetics into consideration, experts say.
“It is quite an important part of the process, especially if the panels are in front of the house,” said Vikram Aggarwal, CEO of EnergySage, an Expedia-like portal that lets consumers compare and choose from various solar power systems. “Very often, customers who are keen on solar hold back because of the aesthetics.”
At times, customers even choose looks over efficiency. For instance, if the energy requirements of the house require, say 19 panels, and 16 of them can form a rectangular shape and the other panels need to be placed elsewhere and won’t clearly form a rectangular shape on the roof, customers are willing to let go of a few panels and give up on that additional energy generation in order to ensure the panels look good on a roof, Aggarwal said.
Furthermore, even if consumers don’t mind the appearance and want to go solar for its other benefits, several homeowners associations and landmark/historical buildings in states such as Nebraska, Colorado and California don’t permit their members to put up solar panels on their roofs because they believe they harm the appearance and uniformity in the neighborhood.
Some also require homeowners to seek permission from their neighbors before having rooftop panels installed because it affects how the neighborhood looks, and not just that one house. In some states, such as Minnesota and Texas, legislation has been passed that prohibits homeowners associations from barring people from installing solar panels on their roofs.
Several startups and companies focus on improving the aesthetics of solar panels. “Take companies like Apple AAPL, +0.30% or Tesla. They are not just into engineering but focus on design and user experience,” said Senthil Balasubramanian, co-founder of Boston-based startup Sistine Solar. “It has to strike a chord with them.” The company has come up with a way to create a customizable layer over solar panels that masks their usual blue or black color. This layer can be customized with different prints, or any color, or even logos of brands. About one in three homeowners today face this problem, and these products will address that category of customers who otherwise were unable to take to solar because homeowners’ associations they are part of don’t permit them to put up solar panels and alter the way the buildings look.
Similarly, Colored Solar in Southern California makes colored solar panels. The company can currently make panels in about 12 different colors, most of them dark shades, said Mike Mrozek, the company’s chief executive. “In places like California, a lot of roofs are in Spanish red colors, and rather than putting up regular panels that might look like a black hole, we provide panels that are in the same color as the Spanish red shingles,” Mrozek said. For Colored Solar’s customer’s, the panels would cost $2 a watt against 60 cents a watt for a regular solar panel, but those niche homeowners are willing to pay the extra, he said.
And some consumers could end up making money from opting for the customized panels. “Often the concern is the resale value of a house with panels that aren’t aesthetically pleasing,” Aggarwal said.
Dueling amendments shed light on Florida’s solar future
Jim Waymer, FLORIDA TODAY 6:15 p.m. EDT August 12, 2016
In an hour, the sun sends Earth more than enough energy to fuel the world’s energy needs for a year — globally beaming our planet the equivalent of 8.4 million Hiroshima bombs an hour.
But the Sunshine State harnesses less than 1 percent of the state’s energy from solar power.
That could change significantly, depending on what happens with two proposed amendments to Florida’s constitution that go before voters this year — one in August and another in November.
Constitutional amendments must pass by at least 60 percent.
First comes Amendment 4 on Aug. 30, also called the Florida Tax Exemptions for Renewable Energy Measure. It would exempt for 20 years solar panels and other renewable energy equipment from real property tax and tangible personal property tax.
The amendment would take effect Jan. 1, 2018, and expire Dec. 31, 2037.
Businesses and homeowners could be putting solar panels on their structures, but taxes on solar equipment stifle the solar market, proponents of the amendment say. The measure could trigger new jobs in solar industry, they say, and help reduce greenhouse gases.
A group called, Vote Yes on 4, led by Greg Holden, chairman of the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce, is campaigning for the amendment.
They call their movment “Floridians for Solar Choice.”
State lawmakers put the amendment on the ballot. Through a bill in 2012, the Legislature had set up a renewable energy tax credit program, set to expire in 2017. So the amendment would extend tax breaks on solar for another 20 years.
But another solar amendment going before voters on Nov. 8 could conflict with Amendment 4, some opponents worry.
Amendment 1, also called the “Rights of Electricity Consumers Regarding Solar Energy Choice” initiative, is being pushed by a group called Consumers for Smart Solar. Although it has “consumers” in its name, the group is backed by Florida Power & Light, Duke Energy, Tampa Electric Company and Gulf Power Company. The group has raised more than $16 million to push Amendment 1, spending more than $13.5 million as of May, according to Ballotpedia.
The amendment aims to retain the ability of state and local government “to protect consumer rights and public health, safety and welfare, and to ensure that consumers who do not choose to install solar are not required to subsidize the costs of backup power and electric grid access to those who do.”
Opponents say the amendment is misleading, would solidify the status quo of Florida’s less-than-stellar solar policy and is just a way for utilities to block competition and ultimately prevent entities other than large utilities from leasing solar panels to homes and businesses and selling the excess energy on the grid.
“It sounds like it’s establishing a new right when we already have the right to put solar panels on our roof. That’s a Florida law,” said Bradley Marshall, senior associate attorney at Earthjustice, the nonprofit group that represented several other groups that challenged putting the initiative on the ballot.
Contact Waymer at 321-242-3663 or firstname.lastname@example.org Follow him on Twitter@JWayEnviro and at facebook.com/jim.waymer
If you go
The League of Women Voters of the Space Coast will present a program on residential solar energy introducing FL SUN (Florida Solar United Neighborhoods). FL SUN’s goal is to expand rooftop solar by making it more affordable through group purchasing power while building a community of solar supporters to strengthen Florida’s solar policies. A panel of solar energy experts that will make brief presentations and answer audience questions
When: 6:30-8 p.m. Aug. 24
Where: Florida Solar Energy Center (FSEC), 1679 Clearlake Road, in Cocoa
Why: “Solar hardware prices have come down 70 precent in the last eight years,” explains LWV Space Coast President Fran Baer. “We want to make citizens aware of the opportunity to reduce their energy bill while they’re lowering their carbon footprint. Most importantly, several solar ballot issues are coming up and we want to mobilize citizens to vote and understand the issues, particularly the Amendment 4 vote on Aug. 30 which will increase incentives for solar.” FL SUN was created through a partnership by the League of Women Voters (LWV) Florida and Community Power Network (CPN), a D.C.-based solar nonprofit network. Interested citizens can join for free, form co-ops with their neighbors and issue RFPs to obtain economy of scale price breaks and make the purchasing process easier. If you’re interested in finding out more about forming a co-op, visit www.FLSUN.org.
Orlando's broken power plant goes back to work OUC has had to buy costly power from other utilities due to a broken dirve shaft. In summary, the breakdown was costly and further emphasized that, coupled with climate-change worries and cheaper natural gas, the future of Orlando’s landmark coal plants appears limited.
Orlando's electric utility faces uncertain future of energy
The 30-year-old, coal-burning Unit 1 of Orlando Utilities Commission was shut down unexpectedly this spring because of wear and tear in fiberglass insulation protecting copper wiring and components of the plant's generator.
"We were surprised to see it," said Wade Gillingham, director of power production at OUC's Stanton Energy Center, referring to the city utility's emphasis on maintenance. "But from an industry perspective, it wasn't a surprise."
The two coal plants belonging to OUC at Stanton Energy Center have been lighting Central Florida homes for a combined half-century of service. They are expected to last at least 40 years each, or the duration of their construction loans, and continue to be flagships of Orlando's ability to produce electricity.
But as the two power plants enter their final years of service, their fates are increasingly shaped by external factors, including efforts on a broad front to get rid of coal-burning plants as dirty, climate-wrecking relics.
The summer of 2016 will go down as brutal for Orlando’s power provider. One of Orlando Utilities Commission’s pair of coal-burning plants, in east Orange County needed to be re-built. It had to be removed and fixed in St. Louis, a repair job finished only this week. Ideally, the plant would have been running flat out this summer, generating electricity as the city set an all-time record for power usage during the blistering month of July.
OUC faces an enormously costly version of a question that a car owner may confront: whether to get rid of a middle-age vehicle because of upkeep and fuel costs.
"We recommend that OUC do a unit-retirement study," said Amelia Shenstone, campaigns director for Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, an environmental group that advocates for pollution reductions in generation and consumption of electricity.
"Even if there is still debt to pay off, if there are cheaper options for producing energy available, it doesn't make sense to keep the plant."
So far, OUC has contended its Curtis Stanton coal plants provide valuable diversity. The utility's other sources of energy are natural gas, nuclear, solar and landfill methane.
OUC explains business of safe drinking water"It is a fully operational and very functional part of our generation portfolio," OUC spokesman Tim Trudell said. "It's been very reliable for many years and is well-maintained, which will allow it to continue to provide reliable power."
But also at issue for OUC's future of energy is a 34-year-old, coal-burning plant that belongs to Lakeland Electric.
The municipal utility's McIntosh Unit 3 power plant in Lakeland was shut down earlier this year so engineers could learn more about original power circuits that may be vulnerable to failing catastrophically.
OUC owns 40 percent of the plant, which is now the focus of a $280,000 study to determine solutions.
Southern Alliance for Clean Energy last year called on Lakeland Electric to do a retirement study for the plant.
"I hope they are taking a second look at that," Shenstone said.
The coal industry blames environmentalists and President Barack Obama for waging a "war on coal" that has wiped out mining jobs.
But among reasons coal is falling out of favor is the energy industry's pivot toward natural gas as the favored fuel for power plants.
While reviled by many environmentalists, hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, used to burst open oilfield formations has dramatically boosted the nation's supply of natural gas.
Natural gas competes with coal in price, has cleaner emissions and doesn't leave behind enormous piles of toxic ash that result from burning coal.
Also dimming the outlook for coal is Obama's push to reduce utility emissions of climate-warming gases, and growing prospects for solar energy.
Florida's primary ballot on Aug. 30, for example, includes a proposed amendment that would provide tax breaks for homeowners and businesses installing solar panels.
The Stanton coal plants went into operation in 1987 and 1996 and cost about $1 billion each in today's dollars.
Cranking out the power of more than 3,000 cars combined, Unit 1 was missed this summer, as July's record heat pushed peak demand for OUC power to the most ever in nearly a century.
OUC removed the unit's generator, at nearly 40 feet long and weighing 153,000 pounds, and shipped it to St. Louis for overhaul.
The outage caused OUC to buy $3.3 million worth of electricity from other utilities. The utility also noted a loss of $1 million in potential profit had Unit 1 been operating.
Rebuilding the generator cost $1.6 million.
Orlando residents won't see a rate increase because of Unit 1 trouble; OUC routinely socks away millions for rainy days.
"We want to get the most out of our assets," said Gillingham, OUC's power-production director. "We want to make sure we don't underutilize the assets because that is going to be a burden for the ratepayers."
The Big Fight in Solar
Lynn Jurich and Tom Werner talk about the future and the fight in Nevada over net metering
Tom Werner talks about the importance of subsidies to the solar-power industry.
April 12, 2016
Despite meteoric growth, solar is still a tiny slice of the global energy pie. Jeffrey Ball, a contributing editor at The Wall Street Journal, spoke with two industry executives about where solar is headed: Lynn Jurich, co-founder and chief executive of Sunrun Inc., and Tom Werner, president and CEO of SunPower Corp. Edited excerpts follow.
MR. BALL: The International Energy Agency says if the world implements pro-renewables policies, solar’s share of global power production in 2040 will be about 4%—both globally and in the U.S.—up from about 1% now.
If you put your industry in the context of a kid growing up, where is solar?
MS. JURICH: This industry has arrived and is at a place where the momentum is there. The industry in the U.S. crossed [a threshold of] over a million solar homes this year. So there’s all this talk about electric vehicles, but there are more than double rooftop solar homes as there are electric vehicles.
MR. WERNER: We’re like a 13-year-old or 14-year-old in high school who’s really athletic, and so you’re going, “Wow, that person is going to be really good.” But this is a 13- or 14-year-old. So that would be the short answer.
IEA is like SunPower: Our forecasts are always wrong, on the low side. Solar’s share of total generation is probably more like 10% by 2040.
MR. BALL: There’s effectively a trade war in solar going on. There are allegations that China is selling solar panels below production cost, decimating the solar industries in the U.S. and Europe. How significant is this?
MR. WERNER: We’re always going to have some policy issues. But you have such a massive opportunity, it creates two things. It creates the desire to make sure that the way it works has the correct policy. And secondly, it brings in massive competition.
Generally speaking, it’s friction, so the consumer loses. You’re not going to be able to pick exactly the right place to put a tariff on and make it right. So when you do that, you get counter-tariffs and costs go up.
MR. BALL: Lynn, let’s talk about the net metering fight. What has happened in Nevada?
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Lynn Jurich talks about Sunrun’s fight to allow its customers to sell excess solar power generation back to utilities at market prices.MS. JURICH: What’s happening right now is we’re building two infrastructures out. We’re building an energy infrastructure that’s customer-sided at the grid edge, and we’re building out our traditional centralized energy. And the economics are very strong on the customer side now.
MR. BALL: Your company leases solar panels to homeowners, puts the panels on the roofs and the homeowners don’t pay any capital cost. They pay you effectively as their electricity provider and that’s how you monetize your business?
MS. JURICH: Exactly. And what’s happening is that the home on average uses about 70% of that power. About 30% of it flows back into the grid.
The framework we’ve used in this country predominantly is that that homeowner should be credited at the retail rate when that energy flows back into the grid, because it flows to the neighbor. It’s much cheaper for the power to go to the neighbor than it is…
MR. BALL: So I have a house and I buy my power from you for less than I would pay if I bought power from the grid. That’s why I buy power from you. And I sell it back into the grid at a higher price than I have paid you for it, because I’m being paid prevailing…
MS. JURICH: Correct.
MR. BALL: That’s a pretty sweet deal. Is it going to last?
MS. JURICH: Not in Nevada.
So let’s talk about this and how we can sort of resolve this. When you look at the studies, what happens is you actually see that at our penetration levels, when we put home solar onto the grid, it strengthens the grid. It saves money for all customers. And many of the studies, and all of the independent studies, have shown that.
There is a utility trade group that just did a survey that asked, “What should consumers be compensated”—solar customers—“for energy that flows back to the grid?” And 80% said, “At retail rate or higher.”
Lynn Jurich, co-founder and chief executive of Sunrun Inc., and Tom Werner, president and CEO of SunPower Corp. PHOTO: GENESIS PHOTOS/DOW JONESWhat happened in Nevada, the legislators said, “We want this thriving rooftop solar market. Come on in.” Then the utility commission said, “You know what? We’re going to change the rate on what we pay for customers’ power that flows back to the grid. We’re going to pay you two cents, two cents a kilowatt-hour, for the power that flows back to the grid that goes to your neighbor. But we’re going to charge that neighbor 12 cents.”
That’s what happened there. That will not stand the test of time.
MR. BALL: Some say it isn’t fair for people who are hooked up to the grid but have solar panels not to be paying something for the maintenance of the electrical grid.
MR. WERNER: The challenge here is the economic model for electricity was established a long time ago, and wasn’t established to think you could have distributed generation that made sense. So the economic model needs to change.
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US set to become major global natgas supplier as exports soar: DOE official
Pittsburgh (Platts)--23 Jun 2016 615 pm EDT/2215 GM
Demand for US natural gas for export -- including both pipeline and LNG exports -- is set to skyrocket through the next few decades, a US Department of Energy official said Thursday, adding the country was on a path to become a top supplier to the international market. "We're going to have substantial increase in pipeline exports to Mexico and LNG exports are going to explode," Carmine Difiglio, DOE deputy director for energy security, said at Hart Energy's DUG East Conference in Pittsburgh.
US gas production peeked last year at an average of around 80 Bcf/d before beginning to decline somewhat. However, the production drop-off is expected to be short-lived as demand for gas for export increases, Difiglio said.
"We expect the growth will resume on a fairly steady basis and reach 83 Bcf/d by the end of 2017," he said.
Difiglio noted that the dramatic increase in shale gas production over the last decade and a half is responsible for growing gas supplies beyond what is needed to meet US demand. Shale gas has grown from being less than 5% of total US gas supplies in 2000 to 56% of supplies today, he said.
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"The Marcellus and Utica shale basins continue to be the most productive for natural gas and especially impressive is the increase between last July and now," Difiglio said.
"Year-on-year growth from 2015 to 2016 was greatest in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Oklahoma and North Dakota, but production was declining in the rest of the United States."
While natural gas prices, which over the past several years have declined substantially in line with oil prices, are starting to come back up, Difiglio said there were signs that the increase would be gradual over the span of several years.
"As production has been maintained and prices have been coming down, our storage now is very high and this will be a factor going forward in price recovery," he said.
Difiglio said that as pipeline imports from Canada decline, the US is poised to become a major gas exporter.
"A number of important LNG export projects are underway," he said, predicting that US gas exports would reach 10 Bcf/d by 2022 and double that volume to 20 Bcf/d by 2040.
"We're expected to become one of the biggest gas exporters by 2022, only second to Qatar."
By comparison, the US in 2015 exported 1.78 Tcf (4.88 Bcf/d), according to the Energy Information Administration.
Difiglio warned, however, that even as US LNG export capacity begins to come online it will do so in a softening international LNG market.
"In Asia, gas prices, the Japanese contract, has come down since the post-Fukushima spreads and now is very similar to European gas prices, but considerably higher than US prices, of course," Difiglio said.
"We expect the spread will come back to more normal levels, with the Asian prices being the highest, Europe in middle and the US prices being lowest, but we're not going to see the kind of spread we saw after the Fukushima [nuclear] accident."
Nonetheless, US exports will be very competitive, he predicted, as US LNG enjoys several advantages over global rivals.
"US LNG projects are brownfield projects; they already have pipeline connections to gas supply, they have marine terminals, relatively efficient transition from regasification facilities to liquefaction," he said.
He noted that in Australia, gas projects are "extremely expensive."
"In Australia they have to have new offshore fields," he said. "They have to have pipelines coming from those fields. They have to have greenfield construction of the LNG facilities."
So although US Henry Hub gas prices are expected to increase from their current levels, prices are still expected to remain very competitive compared with other potential LNG exporting countries, he said.
In addition, the US enjoys a high elasticity of supply, something not found in much of the rest of the world.
"If gas prices rise, production increases, so as we export more LNG the gas to supply the LNG terminals is coming from new production. It's not taking away from new consumption," Difiglio said.
Difiglio also said that despite the substantial decline in international gas prices that is expected to impact the US LNG export market just as it begins to get underway, the global supply/demand picture still favors US LNG exports.
This is reflected in the way that US LNG export contracts are written, which works to the benefit of the customer.
"Firms that decline to take LNG deliveries have to take the tolling cost, the liquefaction cost of the facilities themselves. They're not obligated to pay for the natural gas," he said.
--Jim Magill, firstname.lastname@example.org
Solar amendments: What they mean on your ballot
In less than a month voters will face the first of two state law changes regarding solar energy up for approval this year.
Beth Kassab Contact Reporter
Understanding the solar amendments isn't hard. Here's a breakdown:Let's not make this solar stuff any harder than it has to be.
Florida voters must make a choice on two different amendments related to solar energy on two separate Election Days this year.
That makes for plenty of uncertainty.
Which one is which? Should you vote for them?
Why is solar energy so complicated in, of all places, the Sunshine State?
With just six weeks to go until the Aug. 30 primary, it's time to cut through the confusion. Here's a guide to what's what:
Solar power amendment makes ballotAmendment 4
The gist: Don't let the long, wonky title of this amendment on next month's primary ballot fool you. The meat of this proposal is pretty simple.
If at least 60 percent of voters say yes (the threshold for all constitutional amendments), businesses will no longer pay property taxes on solar panels or other renewable energy equipment.
Florida already gives homeowners a break on their property taxes when they add solar panels to their rooftops. But businesses still pay. They are also required to pay something called tangible personal property tax — assessments on equipment they own. This amendment would eliminate those taxes on solar panels and, theoretically, help bring down the cost of solar energy.
Who's behind it: The more interesting question is who's opposing it? Because the answer is apparently no one. None of the usual suspects on either side of the renewable energy debate in Florida are organizing a campaign against this amendment. The proposal is receiving broad support because it would benefit a wide group — everybody from mom-and-pop businesses to the big utilities such as Florida Power & Light and Duke Energy.
One of the biggest advocates for Amendment 4 is the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, which has tried to open up the solar market in Florida in the past. But the question is on the ballot thanks to a bi-partisan group of legislators who voted for it earlier this year. Sen. Jeff Brandes, a Republican from St. Petersburg, led the way on that along with House representatives Ray Rodrigues, a Republican from Fort Myers, and Lori Berman, a Democrat from Lantana.
You should vote for this amendment if: You want to see more solar energy in Florida. Advocates for renewable energy say these tax breaks are essential to making solar more affordable. Solar panels typically come with big up front costs to homeowners. But the elimination of tangible personal property taxes could encourage more solar panel companies to lease panels to homeowners — a potentially cheaper route than homeowners buying the panels and a move that could make solar available to more people.
You should vote against this amendment if: You are happy with the status quo. Without tax breaks, solar and other renewable energy sources are unlikely to catch on in Florida. This is only a good thing if you enjoy the potential volatility of natural gas prices, which is what we depend on for most of our electricity in this state.
The gist: In order to fully understand this amendment which will be on the Nov. 8 ballot, first you need to know that it was born out of political strategy — not a desire for meaningful change. Once upon a time (last year), a motley crew of tree-huggers, free-market purists and business owners backed an amendment that could have potentially threatened the utilities' regulated monopolies on selling power.
The utilities didn't take kindly to that. Amendment 1 was started with utility backing and the other amendment was successfully kept off the ballot.
If voters approve this amendment, it would enshrine current state policy in the state constitution – the rights of homeowners and businesses to own or lease solar equipment. Advocates for this amendment also say it would provide for consumer protections against unscrupulous companies that have taken advantage of solar customers in other states. But Florida already has protections in place for consumers. So this amendment wouldn't do much, if anything, new for Florida.
Who's behind it: Utilities. Consumers for Smart Solar, a political committee backing Amendment 1, logs millions of dollars in contributions from Florida Power & Light, Duke Energy and other utility interests. Remember, the power companies make money when you buy electricity from them, not when you install your own solar panels and create your own power.
You should vote for this amendment if: You want to keep things pretty much the way they are in Florida.
You should vote against this amendment if: You are skeptical of the utilities' control over how we get our power. Voting against this amendment wouldn't guarantee change, but it would send a message that voters don't want to protect current policy by adding it to the state constitution.
There you have it. A breakdown on the two solar amendments before Florida voters this year. That wasn't that painful, was it?
FTC: Watch out for solar scams
Local news, weather, and sports.
By: Randy Travis
POSTED:JUN 23 2016 06:53PM EDT
UPDATED:JUN 23 2016 11:11PM EDT
COVINGTON, Ga. -
The official start of summer meant we're officially headed into some of the hottest days of the year and some of the highest electric bills.
But homeowners with solar panels love this time of the year. More Georgians are going solar, and now the government wants to make sure you don't fall for a solar scam.
This week the Federal Trade Commission held a workshop with consumer advocates and industry representatives. They agreed that consumer fraud in the solar business could harm the fast growth residential solar power is currently experiencing.
FTC: Watch out for solar scamsEven though adding solar panels to your home can cost thousands of dollars up front, new laws allowing Georgians to lease those panels have made it more affordable. Homeowners have been attracted by the freedom of generating their own power to sell back to the utility companies, thus reducing their overall power bill. Plus many solar advocates share a desire to help the environment.
But over the years, the FOX 5 I-Team has told you about homeowners who wish they'd done their solar homework. One man wound up with cheaper Chinese-made solar panels even though the company's proposal listed American-made panels. The installer claimed the roof line forced them to use Chinese panels, but the homeowner insisted no one told him and the cost never changed.
A Paulding County woman gave her solar installer $10,000 up front but never received any panels. Willie Akers eventually pled no contest to theft and agreed to pay back the money. When the homeowner said she had only received $300, Akers wound up back in jail on a probation violation.
Bill Entrekin loves the 25 panels on his Newton County home and the $55 Georgia Power bill he just got despite the searing summer temperatures. Still...
"I wish I had done a little more research after the fact seeing the problem that other folks have had," Entrekin admitted. His installer failed for three months to hook up his panels to the grid, meaning he missed out on all that potential energy.
"I went with the first one because he was so convincing in his statements and his claims," he remembered.
When you're an energy pioneer like Bill Entrekin, you have to be ready for those unseen dangers along the solar frontier. And that's why the Federal Trade Commission invited industry leaders this week to come up with ways to better protect consumers.
The head of the Solar Energy Industry Association pointed out it took 40 years to install their one millionth solar panel.
"That second million won't happen if the customer isn't treated right," predicted interim president Thomas Kimbis.
Other ideas considered include requiring solar companies in all 50 states present a "truth in lending" form to potential customers that spells out the true costs of solar.
Another tip: make sure a company doesn't exaggerate how fast utility rates are rising to help shorten the amount of time a customer can make back their investment. In our hidden camera investigation into one company, the salesman told us electric rates were rising 30 percent a year. The truth? The Georgia Public Service Commission said rates have risen about two percent a year. Big difference.
You can offer your own suggestions to the FTC by following this link:
ENERGY COST IMPACTS ON FLORIDA FAMILIES
The report “Energy Cost Impacts on Florida Families”1 provides information and data on energy expenditures by Florida families at different income levels. Energy expenditures include electricity, natural gas, other home heating fuels, and transportation. Key findings indicate that higher energy prices, such as those caused by EPA policies, will harm lower-income and middle-income families in the state.
Minorities and senior citizens are especially vulnerable to these electricity price increases due to their lower household incomes.
1 Eugene M. Trisko, Energy Cost Impacts on Florida Families (Jan. 2016).
2 NERA Economic Consulting, Energy and Consumer Impacts of EPA’s Clean Power Plan (Nov. 7, 2015).
How the Rockefeller Fund Killed Keystone
February 22, 2012 by Jacob Laksin
Jacob Laksin is a senior writer for Front Page Magazine. He is co-author, with David Horowitz, of The New Leviathan (Crown Forum, 2012), and One-Party Classroom (Crown Forum, 2009). Email him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter at @jlaksin.
President Obama’s recent decision to deny a permit for the Keystone XL oil pipeline was widely hailed on the environmental left. Particularly exuberant was the Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF), which declaredon its website that the decision came “against great political odds and the deep-pocketed backing of the oil industry.” The specter of oil industry money and its nefarious influence on politics was a familiar environmental talking point. What the fund did not acknowledge was that its own deep-pocketed backing for environmental groups had a far more decisive impact on Obama’s decision to cancel the pipeline project.
Earlier this month the Canadian news channel Sun News uncovered a PowerPoint presentation by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund that lays bare its strategy of funding a host of environmental groups to thwart the Keystone XL pipeline as well as other development projects that the fund considered a “globally significant threat.” According to investigative reporter Lachlan Markay, the 2008 presentation “describes the allocation of $7 million to environmental non-profits for tactics that include the use of the legislative and legal systems to delay or derail energy production in the United States and Canada, and to ‘raise the costs’ of energy in both nations.” The Daily Caller reports that the 2008 strategy session also featured presentations from Rockefeller Brothers Fund program officer Michael Northrop as well as the representatives of several environmental groups, among them Corporate Ethics International, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Pembina Institute, a Canadian activist group. Together, these groups would emerge at the forefront of an alarmist scare-campaign that ultimately led to Keystone’s cancellation.
Tax records examined by the Daily Caller show that between 2007 and 2010, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund gave $1.25 million to Portland, Oregon-based Corporate Ethics International, an environmental group whose declared mission is to bring corporations “under the control of the citizenry.” Adescription of the grant by the RBF says that the money was intended “to coordinate the initial steps of a markets campaign to stem demand for tar sands derived fuels in the United States,” a reference to the Keystone pipeline, which would have transported oil from the tar sands near Alberta, Canada, to the U.S Gulf Coast. To prevent that from happening, in July 2010 Corporate Ethics International began a campaign urging American and British visitors to steer clear of Alberta during their travels as long as tar sands exploration was in progress. Considering that Alberta’s tourism industry generates $5 billion in annual revenues, the anti-Keystone campaign targeted the lifeblood of the province.
The campaign was backed by another RBF grantee, the Natural Resources Defense Council. With over $181 million in net assets as of 2010, the NRDC is one of the largest and most powerful environmental groups, and it used the full force of its clout to cast the Keystone project as a disaster in waiting. For instance, a March 2011 NRDC issue paper claimed that “the proposed pipeline presents serious environmental and health risks” and warned that it would be a threat to freshwater supplies in the American heartland. By November of 2011, Obama was reciting the NRDC’s claims virtually verbatim. In so doing, he was contradicting the findings of his own State Department, which after an exhaustive review of the Keystone project had concluded in August of 2011 that the pipeline would have “no significant impact” on land and water sources on its route. In the event, the NRDC proved more influential than the State Department.
While the NRDC ratcheted up the rhetoric of environmental calamity in the U.S., RBF funds helped other environmental groups make the same apocalyptic appeal in Canada. Thus one recipient of the funds was the Vancouver, British Columbia based environmental non-profit the Pembina Institute. The goal of the funding was to “prevent the development of a pipeline and tanker port that endangers the Great Bear Rainforest protected area.” Accordingly, the Pembina Institute warned of “disastrous health and safety impacts of unfettered, weakly regulated, and weakly monitored oilsands development.” The Pembina Institute also partnered with the NRDC to release a report claiming that bitumen from the oilsands is more corrosive and heavier than conventional oil, thus making a pipeline failure or tanker leak more likely.